Two more private members’ bills dealing with the Canadian Wheat Board received first reading in the House of Commons last week.
If it becomes law Bill C-588 will stop members of Parliament from spending taxpayers’ money to influence Canadian Wheat Board elections.
Bill C-589, if approved, will give the CWB’s directors more control of the organization and limit the discretionary power the minister responsible for the CWB has.
The bill is similar to Liberal MP Ralph Goodale’s Bill C-548, which received first reading in June. Both C-548 and C-589 will give the CWB’s 10 elected board members the authority to appoint two directors, while the minister can appoint two, plus the CWB’s president and chief executive officer, but only after consulting with the elected board members.
“The current situation gives the minister way too much authority and doesn’t give nearly enough democracy to the institution,” Winnipeg Centre New Democratic Party MP Pat Martin said in an interview Nov. 5.
Alex Atamanenko, the NDP MP for B.C. Southern Interior, said he was prompted to introduce C-588 because seven Conservative MPs used taxpayer money in the 2008 CWB election to send out 9,000 letters urging farmers to elect directors opposed to the CWB’s single-desk marketing mandate.
In May the federal government introduced its own CWB legislation, Bill C-27. It proposes only farmers who grow at least 40 tonnes of the seven crops listed in the CWB Act (wheat, oats, barley, rye, flaxseed, rapeseed and canola) in the current or previous two crop years get to vote in CWB elections.
It also proposes speeding up government approvals for higher CWB initial and adjustment payments.
Atamanenko and Martin acknowledged neither of their bills will be debated before the current CWB election is over, but they still serve a purpose, they said.
“What it does do is serve notice to the government that this is an issue we can garner support for across the country,” Martin said. “It’s a shot across the bow of the government and if and when the opportunity arises we’re going to make these changes.”
According to Martin, the Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has an irrational hatred for the CWB.
“They will stop at nothing,” Martin said. “Their ideological whims seem to trump any kind of sense of fair play and decency and democracy.”
In an email, Ritz said the NDP is out of touch with farmers’ issues.
“If the NDP were so concerned with standing up for Canadian farmers, why do they continue to vote against free trade deals and threaten to kill legislation that would speed up (approval for higher CWB) payments by as much as three weeks?” Ritz said.
Martin also accused the federal government of deliberately delaying approval of the
CWB’s request to increase initial payments.
“The government doesn’t want a big, fat cheque from the Canadian Wheat Board landing in the mailbox on the very same day as the ballot for the directors of the Canadian Wheat Board because obviously producers would be feeling pretty positive towards the wheat board,” Martin said.
Ritz blamed the CWB for the delay when Martin raised it in the House of Commons Nov. 2.
“The first application was done improperly, so a good portion of the blame for the delay goes right back to the wheat board itself,” he said.
CWB spokesman John Lyons said the CWB recommended Ottawa boost initial payments in early September, but towards the end of the month withdrew it and recommended even higher initials to reflect the recent rise in world grain prices. Submitting a new recommendation will get more money out to farmers faster than had the CWB waited for the government to approve the first recommendation, Lyons said.
The federal government guarantees the CWB’s payments and is obliged to analyze recommendations to increase payments before approving them, Ritz said. Approvals, which include the blessing of the Treasury Board, often take six to eight weeks, which in this case would be in the next week or two.
– PAT MARTIN